Last month, the 16th Annual Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Expo provided an opportunity for representatives of various companies to make a pitch to members of Congress and federal agencies for the kinds of policies they would like to see enacted and share important developments. The expo included five panels, each of which featured five speakers. Numerous members of Congress and representatives of several government agencies also spoke. Panel topics included:
- Panel 1: Overview, Geothermal, Solar & PV
- Panel 2: Biofuels, Biodiesel, and Biomethane
- Panel 3: Hydropower, Ocean Power, Water/Energy Nexus
- Panel 4: Energy Efficiency
- Panel 5: Storage, Electric Vehicles, and Grid Issues
I took the time to tune into Panel 5, due its relevance to several topics we have covered here in the past.
Dennis McKinley on Modernizing the Power Grid
The panel opened with Dennis McKinley, Director of North American Wind Power for ABB and a leader in power and automation technology. McKinley spoke about modernizing the power grid, saying “the aging power grid and our long industrial heritage has left us with some infrastructure that is pretty outdated and pretty archaic. It basically drains energy, resources and threatens our environment. There are technologies available that can make that better. We need leaders who can help make those changes that are required. For renewables, every hour the Earth absorbs more energy than the world’s population consumes in a year. Wind energy is the most mature and most utility scale-ready alternative.”
He went on to say that the concept of a smart grid is widely misunderstood. Most public and media attention focuses on things like smart meters, which do enable things like time of use pricing and give consumers better information about how and when they use energy. They also show your utility company that your power is out, allowing them to respond more quickly.
But that’s only part of the story. Other smart grid technology systems include wide area monitoring systems that can identify potential problems before they cause blackouts, advanced transformers, power cables and other so-called primary power equipment. The challenge of transmitting electricity over long distances (like from wind farms), can be solved using technologies such as high-voltage direct current (HVDC).
We need to do three things: develop renewables, improve transmission infrastructure, including smart grid, and improve energy efficiency.
Katherine Hamilton on Energy Storage
Katherine Hamilton, Policy Director for the Electricity Storage Association, was the next to speak. Her topic was “Energy Storage – the Great Enabler.”
Says Hamilton, “Right now, our power system is built such that, when you generate it, you have to use it immediately. How can we use better what we already produce? Well, we need warehouses for it. That is what energy storage does.”
Storage can be used at any point in the chain. It can be on the transmission side or at community scale, it can provide backup for large commercial and industrial facilities or it can be used at the residential level where it can allow consumers to ride out a grid outage if they have their own self-contained storage. On the grid side it helps manage the overall capacity and can eliminate the need for additional power plants.
Storage is technology neutral. At present, 98 percent of storage on the grid today is pumped hydro. That was originally used with nuclear, though it can also be used with natural gas or renewables with no added emissions. Hamilton’s wish list includes more R&D for new technologies and partnerships between entrepreneurs and utilities. FERC is also needed to establish policy that recognizes the value of technologies like these. State public utility commissions can also play a major role. The California State PUC, for example, just ruled to require 50 MW of storage capacity in the LA Basin. The Association is also looking for Investment Credits for energy storage, Master Limited Partnership parity and R&D tax credits for pre-revenue companies.
Doretta Caprarola on Building a Sustainable Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure
Next, Doretta Caprarola, Marketing Manager of Fuji Electric Corporation of America, spoke about building a sustainable EV-charging infrastructure. She mainly focused on the “business side” of the EV charging business.
Studies have shown that typical charging sessions last 25-30 minutes, which is not that different from the time it takes to fill a gas tank, though the cost is significantly lower. The question is how to add charging as a value-added service to customers in order to create a recurring revenue stream.
Currently, there are 12,000 alternative fuel charging stations in the US. Roughly half of these are for electric vehicles. EV owners will benefit from expansion of charging infrastructure. A fully built-out public infrastructure will be required for mass adoption and federal and state incentives will need to continue. Complimentary charging will give way to a pay-per-use model to offset costs. Tax incentives need to be extended by five years to survive the long sales cycles and to help businesses cover the installation costs.
From an economic outlook standpoint, 59 percent of projected EV jobs will be in manufacturing. The transformation of this sector will require the support of key segments, such as retail, hospitality, parking lots and municipalities. Many of the companies want to show their support for CSR, but they also have to justify the cost.
Dan Arden on Volt/VAR Optimization
Dan Arden of Eaton Cooper spoke for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association about Volt/VAR Control and Optimization. Volt/VAR optimization, or VVO, is a topic that many people are not familiar with. It is an intelligent control that leverages a communications network to monitor voltages within the system and ensure that voltages remain within the specified range. This is important because many devices are sensitive to voltage and will not consumer as much energy if the voltage is at the lower end of the range.
Even though utilities are allowed to provide power within a fairly wide range (114V-126V), holding the voltage towards the lower end of that range can have a significant impact on energy consumption and the lifespan of many motor-driven devices. Both of these impacts improve sustainability.
Effectively managing Volt/VAR can reduce demand by one percent, which equates to 7,600 MW or $3.8 billion in demand cost. There is also a potential $1.8 billion savings in energy cost. These two numbers are not completely additive (your mileage will vary), but the opportunity is large. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners issued a resolution of support for a targeted investment in Volt/VAR optimization suggesting that utilities be incentivized by cost recovery mechanisms because deploying VVO would reduce revenue for the utilities.
Twenty states have drafted energy efficiency (EE) regulations. These are not especially clear about whether VVO qualifies as an EE measure. Both Ohio and North Carolina have qualified rate recovery mechanisms for Volt/VAR.
Gary Seifert on the Power of Data in Microgrids
Finally, Gary Seifert, Business Development Executive at OSISoft, talked about the power of data in microgrids.
Microgrids, according to Bob Leigh, president and CEO of Prolucid LocalGrid Technologies Inc., are “network[s] of generation, load, and storage that [are] managed to optimize asset usage around a set of constraints or desired conditions.”
In other words, they are a kind of smart, closed system that maintains its own dynamic equilibrium, almost like the human body.
Microgrids need to be able to sync in and out of the grid without any effect on the system. That is easier said than done.
Most facilities, according to Seifert, that say they have a micro-grid do not. The most common problems facilities have with obtaining microgrids are not having enough generation to do the work, not having the proper monitoring instruments, not having the ability to synchronize or not having the ability to manage their loads. A true microgrid needs to be able to do all these things.
What makes a microgrid work is the closed-loop data integrity. The enabling technology is better monitoring equipment. You can actually use it to tell exactly what state the grid is in before the lights go out.
“That will help us manage our systems a lot better so that we’re better prepared when the system starts to go down. We talked about storage earlier, you can use your monitoring system and your control system to determine when you want to use storage vs. generation,” Seifert says.
The key lies in the first 30, 90, and 120 seconds when the grid starts to go down.
Load management and storage can both play a big role here, but you need accurate and timely data to know when to use them.
EV charging stations are going to have to be bi-directional, so that, if needed, EV batteries can help avoid a blackout for that 30-second spike before it goes back to withdrawing power from the grid.
“We’re going to have a higher percentage of renewables, a higher percentage of variable loads, a lower percentage of very large plants because we’re shutting down a lot of big coal and big nuclear in a lot of places. We’re bringing a lot of small generation assets on and they have completely different time constants. As we move forward, we will need to know exactly what those performance characteristics are. More awareness means less reserves needed, which helps reduce the cost of electricity,” says Seifert.
Renewables, storage, better control, better awareness: those are going to be the characteristics of the grid of the future.
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